Lawrence City Commission to review funding agreement for fire and medical services

photo by: Nick Krug

A firefighter releases the flow of water from a hydrant to a Lawrence Douglas County Fire Medical ladder truck during a training exercise in this file photo from April 28, 2009 at a training facility, 1941 Haskell Ave.

Story updated at 4:25 p.m. Monday, Nov. 12:

Discussions will soon begin regarding how much city of Lawrence and Douglas County taxpayers should pay for firefighting and emergency medical services.

City officials have said the current funding agreement for Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical is unfair to city taxpayers. As part of their work session Tuesday, Lawrence city commissioners will review the funding agreement and provide direction to city staff.

Currently, the city pays about 75 percent of the fire-medical department’s budget and the county pays 25 percent, according to a joint resolution between the city and county. The funding agreement has not significantly changed in the 22 years since it was established.

The city and county have various funding agreements, and City Manager Tom Markus said such agreements needed to be reviewed and updated periodically.

“My preference is that we maintain the agreements but that we update them and that we look for a better balance of distribution of costs based on who should be paying what,” Markus said. He said the current funding agreement didn’t reflect the true costs.

The Lawrence Fire Department and the Douglas County Ambulance Service consolidated their services in 1996. The funding allocation established at that time was based on what the city and county had been paying for each service when the consolidation occurred, according to a memo from the fire-medical department to the commission. Under the agreement, the city is supposed to be financially responsible for firefighting within the city limits and the county responsible for emergency medical service in the county, including within the city of Lawrence.

Markus said the 25 percent paid by the county no longer reflected the cost of providing emergency medical services throughout the county.

“The county basically is reimbursing us for what percentage they were paying at the time, without the recognition that things change,” Markus said. “That’s a big concern, and so, finally, we’re able to sit down and start negotiating this.”

The department has 150 employees and a multimillion-dollar annual budget. For this year, the city budgeted about $23 million to pay for the department’s expenses, which include costs for personnel and equipment.

City staff is recommending the commission pursue equitable financial obligations for emergency medical services, which make up 75 percent of the fire-medical department’s service calls. Fire calls make up 23 percent and Coroner Scene Investigator calls 2 percent. Staff is also recommending that the agreement incorporate clear language for capital and equipment costs and review the CSI and technical rescue programs.

Markus said the city wasn’t recommending a specific funding allocation at this point, as he said it would make sense to first start the communication between the city and the county and to understand the county’s counterpoints. He said that, following Tuesday’s meeting, the next step would be for city staff to begin meeting with county staff.

The Lawrence City Commission will convene at 5 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.


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